Nineteenth Century Women's Rights Movement
The effort to secure women's rights began at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. A group of women and men drafted and approved the Declaration of Sentiments, an impassioned demand for equal rights for women, including the right to vote. The declaration was modeled after the language and structure of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Many of those gathered at Seneca Falls, including early women's rights leaders SUSAN B. ANTHONY and ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, had been active in the abolitionist movement, seeking an end to SLAVERY. However, these women realized that they were second-class citizens, unable to vote and possessing few legal rights, especially if they were married. Some leaders, like LUCY STONE, saw parallels between women and slaves: both were expected to be passive, cooperative, and obedient. In addition, the legal status of both slaves and women was unequal to that of white men.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, many of these reformers fully committed their energies to gaining women's suffrage. Stanton and Anthony established the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) that sought an amendment to the U.S. Constitution similar to the FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT, which gave non-white men the right to vote. In 1872, Anthony was prosecuted for attempting to vote in the presidential election. Stone, on the other hand, helped form the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). AWSA worked for women's suffrage on a state by state basis, seeking amendments to state constitutions.
The U.S. Supreme Court was hostile to women's suffrage. In Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 22 L. Ed. 627 (1875), the Court rejected an attempt by a woman to cast a ballot in a Missouri election. The Court stated that the "Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one." In addition, the Court said, "Women were excluded from suffrage in nearly all the States by the express provision of their constitutions and laws." In essence, the Court relied on past exclusions to justify current exclusions, concluding that because women had never been allowed to vote, they could continue to be excluded.
The attitude of the Court in Minor was fore-shadowed three years earlier in the concurring opinion of Justice JOSEPH P. BRADLEY in Brad-well v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 21 L. Ed. 442 (1872). Bradley supported the Illinois Supreme Court's denial of Myra Bradwell's application to practice law in the state. Bradley articulated the widely held view that the "natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life." He further concluded that the "paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator."
By the late nineteenth century, LOBBYING of state legislatures by AWSA and other suffrage supporters began to bear fruit. A few states changed their statutes to permit female suffrage. By 1912, nine states had extended the franchise to include women. In 1918, President WOODROW WILSON endorsed women's suffrage, and Congress soon adopted a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote and submitting the amendment to the states for ratification. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, immediately doubling the potential electorate.
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